Two New Westminster middle school boys don’t think it’s fair they’re not getting the same free protection against the cancer-causing human papilloma virus (HPV) as the girls at their school.
Twin brothers Elliot and Nelson Roy were handed notices last week about upcoming vaccinations for Grade 6 students at their school, École Glenbrook Middle.
The two 11-year-olds noticed the HPV vaccine was being offered to girls only.
Most of their male classmates didn’t make much of it, they said, and others thought boys couldn’t get the virus, but the Roy brothers knew better because they had watched a documentary on the subject a short time before.
“It showed how deadly these sicknesses can be,” Elliot told The Record. “I went to sleep that night kind of thinking, ‘Why are we not getting this? This is a life-saving vaccine.’”
“We heard what it could do to people and apparently how the vaccine should be taken around 12 or 11,” he said, “so then when the vaccinations at our school came up and it said that only girls could, we were a bit upset about it.”
Their dad, Michel, encouraged them to write a letter to the editor.
In it, they argued boys should get free vaccinations because they are at the same risk as girls for getting the disease and passing it on.
“It is a life-threatening virus as it can produce many forms of cancer,” states the letter. “We have heard that the vaccine is available for free for boys in P.E.I. and Alberta, so we do not understand why boys cannot get it for free as part of our Grade 6 immunizations.”
Two types of HPV cause 70 per cent of cervical cancers in women, according to the Immunize B.C. website. In men, the virus is associated with cancers of the mouth, nose, throat, anus and penis.
B.C. has offered a free HPV vaccination program for girls in grades 6 and 9 since 2008.
P.E.I. was the first province to extend their program to boys; Alberta has followed suit this fall, and Nova Scotia is reportedly considering the move.
B.C. is not, even though the Canadian Cancer Society recommends males between the ages of nine and 26 be immunized and that HPV vaccines should be “available and affordable to Canadians.”
“At this time, B.C. is not covering HPV vaccination for males,” reads an email statement to The Record from the Health Ministry. “The cost of such a program is a factor in this decision. When making decisions about what vaccines to cover under the province’s vaccination program, the ministry looks at both cost-effectiveness and potential benefits, keeping in mind B.C.’s specific circumstances.”
That explanation doesn’t sit right with New West’s Roy brothers.
“I don’t find that very fair because then why should the girls get it if the boys can’t,” Nelson said. “If it is too expensive, then why can’t everyone just pay the same?”
The family now faces a total cost of about $1,000 for the boys to get the shots through their family doctor.
“Our family’s been touched by cancer a couple of times, so we take it very seriously,” Michel said.